Know Your Opponent: Xavier Musketeers
In the West Region of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, the #6 Maryland Terrapins (24-8; 12-6) face off against the #11 Xavier Musketeers (21-13; 9-9) on Thursday, March 16 at 6:50 PM in Orlando, FL. The Musketeers are in their fourth NCAA Tournament in a row, and have also been in the tournament 11 out of the last 12 years (a feat that only seven other schools in the country can boast about). In his eight years as head coach, Chris Mack has led Xavier to seven tournaments and three Sweet Sixteen appearances.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
As a 2014 graduate of Xavier and a die-hard fan that watches every game, here is a quick look at the Xavier Musketeers.
The 2016-17 season has been a tumultuous one for Xavier. Prior to the season even beginning, Xavier lost two players: senior guard and three-point specialist Myles Davis (who was suspended through January by the school for misdemeanor charges involving his girlfriend and then left the program three games after his reinstatement) and incoming freshman forward Eddie Ekiyor. Davis was the key loss as the second leading returning scorer (10.8 PPG) from last season.
Despite that, in non-conference play, the Musketeers won the Tire Pros Invitational (with wins over Missouri, Clemson, and Northern Iowa) as well as defeating Utah and Wake Forest. Their only nonconference losses were both on the road, to Baylor and Colorado, entering Big East Conference season at 10-2.
In conference play, Xavier finished 9-9 in the Big East and also had a Big East Tournament win over Butler. It was several up-and-down months of winning streaks and losing streaks, as Xavier started 3-0 then lost three in a row at Villanova, at Butler and vs. Creighton. They won their next five but in the middle of that run during a St. John’s win, NBA prospect and PG Edmond Sumner tore his ACL. What is surprising is that the team’s likely three best wins (vs. Seton Hall, at Creighton and vs. Butler in the BET) came without Sumner. However, losing Sumner was and continues to be a critical blow to this team’s chances to go far in the Tournament. His quickness and ability to drive the lane (and finish at the rim or dish for an open three) is second to none.
The wheels fell off for Xavier during the Villanova game when leading scorer Trevon Blueitt (18.1 PPG) went down with an ankle injury. He would miss most of that game and the next two. Xavier would lose all three (and three more, for a horrid six-game losing streak) and enter into cannot-lose, back-to-back games against DePaul, where they cruised to two easy wins. The Big East Tournament win over Butler and a heartbreaking, last-minute 75-72 loss to Creighton in the semifinals clinched a NCAA Tournament berth. The Musketeers’ finished with an overall record of 5-12 against tournament teams.
Xavier is currently ranked #40 per KenPom with the 33rd best offense and the 74th best defense. To compare, Maryland is ranked #43 overall (38th in offensive efficiency and 64th in defensive efficiency). Despite the differences in seeding, I believe that these teams are very similar. Xavier and Maryland average 74.6 and 74.2 PPG, respectively. Both teams look for their guards to make plays on offense to score, rather than working through a big man. The big advantage that Xavier will have over Maryland is in rebounding. The Musketeers rank #20 nationally in rebounding margin (+6.6), while the Terrapins rank #167 (+.7). The only team that both teams played this year was Georgetown; Xavier swept the season series against the Hoyas while Maryland won in a wild last minute.
As I said in the BSL Game Thread, I believe that the teams will likely match-up to start with:
Quentin Goodin – Anthony Cowan
Malcom Bernard – Melo Trimble
JP Macura – Kevin Huerter
Trevon Blueitt – Justin Jackson
Rashid Gaston – Damonte Dodd
Xavier likes to switch on defense and I don’t expect that strategy to change in this game… While Xavier gained national notoriety last year with the success of their 1-3-1 zone defense, due to player personnel, Chris Mack has not utilized it as much this year. He has employed a 2-3 zone on occasion if a player is in foul trouble, so be on the look-out for that, especially if Maryland struggles shooting early… Both teams struggle with turnovers, so the Terrapins need to take advantage of potential turnovers when freshman PG Quentin Goodin is out of the game and SG JP Macura is running the point. Since Sumner’s injury, Goodin has started 13 straight games and has averaged 5.2 APG in those starts… Xavier is best when Quentin Goodin attacks the basket and is able to finish with a layup or dish out for an open three to Trevon Blueitt, JP Macura or Malcom Bernard… Speaking of Bernard, the graduate transfer could be a difference maker for Xavier’s tournament chances. He has stepped up his play late in his senior season, averaging 10.5 PPG and 5.8 RPG in the last six games…
The Musketeers go eight-deep. Besides the five starters, PF Kaiser Gates is a stretch-four who can shoot from behind the arc, C Tyrique Jones is a tough rebound-getter with a high motor and C Sean O’Mara has struggled for much of the season, but has been a big help offensively in the last three games… If Xavier is to win this game, it will come down to the performances of scoring leaders Trevon Blueitt and JP Macura. They will need to limit Melo Trimble, though I don’t love Malcom Bernard matching up with him. The Musketeers have to control the boards given their strength and the Terrapins’ weakness… If Maryland is to win, they need their trio of freshmen to come to play. Maryland can do themselves a big favor by limiting turnovers on the offensive end, creating turnovers when Xavier is struggling on offense, and making free throws, which Xavier has struggled with all season.
As I’ve said, despite the 6-11 matchup, these two teams are very similar. I personally saw this more of a 7-10 matchup prior to the Selection Show. Xavier struggled through all of February (while Maryland finished the season 4-6) but showed an unwillingness to give in with an admirable run in the tournament. Despite the six-game losing streak, I see Xavier coming into this game with a bit more confidence than Maryland and being tougher on the glass which will lead to a victory. While I do see Xavier advancing to the Round of 32, they will need to have an answer defensively for Melo Trimble, who has proven time and time again that he can take over and win games in last-second situations. Final Prediction: Xavier 76, Maryland 71.